Using a game to teach English actively

Hi there!

During last Friday’s English Language Teaching class we had to write down rules and vocabulary for the game Happy family, in the Netherlands known as kwartet. We also had to give an explanation on how to apply this with other games. So I thought I should add it here because I learned a lot of it. I never knew there were some many factors you should take into consideration with regards to such a small and simple game.

Happy family! (Subject : clothing)

First of all you would want to explain the game title. If there is one, give or ask for the Dutch title of the particular game. (Happy families à kwartet)

You want to inform yourself whether your pupils are familiar with the game or not, if not go through the game rules together, mainly because there are many different rules for certain games and you want it to be clear that they are all playing by the same rules in your classroom. Therefore, go through the rules either way, when they are and when they aren’t familiar with the game.

Game rules :

  1. Shuffle the deck.
  2. Every person gets five cards.
  3. Place the remaining cards on a pile in the middle of the table(s).
  4. The objective of the game is to make “happy families” with the cards in your hand. (Sets of four).
  5. Go clockwise and the youngest member starts.
  6. Ask a group member if he possesses a card you need to get a happy family.
  7. You can only ask for one card at the time, do so by naming the category and the specific item you want.
  8. If your group member has the card he responds and gives you the card. You can now ask another or the same group member if they have another card you need.
  9. When your group member hasn’t got the card you draw a card from the pile and your turn is over.  It is now the turn of the person next to you.
  10. In the end, the person with the most happy families wins.
  11. Don’t use swear words!

Now you want to go through the vocabulary, start with the vocabulary used in the game rules. Write down some hard words and ask for translations/definitions. Also ask for other difficult words your pupils might have found. For example:

  • Shuffle – schudden
  • Deck – pak kaarten
  • Pile – stapel
  • Clockwise – met de klok mee
  • Draw a card – pak een kaart

Move on to the particular vocabulary used for this type of game. Give some examples and let them give the definition/translation. You might also want your pupils to come up with other ways to ask for cards or respond to a question. For example:

  • It’s your turn.
  • From the category of …, could you give me …, please?
  • Here you go.
  • Thank you very much.
  • I’m sorry, I haven’t got that one.

Last but not least, go through the vocabulary within the game. In the case of this game, happy families with clothing as the subject, go through the words on the cards. For example:

  • Top hat
  • Socks
  • Sweater
  • Colours (blue, yellow etc.)
  • State of pieces of clothing (old, dirty etc.)


All things considered, in my opinion, the best way to have a clear and structured game in your classroom is probably to make a game with your pupils from scratch. Pick a certain type of game, set up the rules together and let them make the cards, board and/or whatever else you need for the particular game. That way the students will be positively involved and will be exposed to the language in a more active way than by just listening to you explaining the game and giving some examples and definitions/translations themselves.


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